Ilwad Elman: Architect of Her Own Legacy Through Sister Somalia
Mogadishu (KON) - When nineteen year old Ilwad Elman boarded a plane three years ago to visit her mother in Mogadishu she had no idea she wouldn’t be returning.
After years of listening to bombs exploding on the other end of the phone, she worried constantly about her mother, Fartun Adan, who had returned to Somalia years earlier to carry on with the work of Ilwad’s late father, the legendary peace activist, Elman Ali Ahmed.
Ilwad booked her flight, packed her bags and left her comfortable life in Ottawa, Canada with the expectation of returning a few weeks later to continue her education.
Little did she know that seeing her mother’s work first hand and meeting the women and girls at the Elman Peace and Human Rights Centre her life would change forever and she would stay in Mogadishu to pick up the mantle of activism her parents had carried for years.
By helping her mother build Sister Somalia, Ilwad’s efforts have enabled Somali women and girls to reclaim their lives as survivors of sexual assault. Every day she meets women, often her own age, who are dealing with the aftermath of horrific crimes with no hope of justice. Some are in danger of re-attack, others are contemplating suicide, and many need medical attention.
She offers them her own strength and courage while holding back her own tears. Through the innovative programs she has created, Ilwad helps these women to reconnect with their bodies and to feel in control of their destiny, possibly for the very first time.
She has educated the most vulnerable members of her society and designed and implemented projects that deliver alternative livelihood opportunities. Young and old alike have come to rely on her guidance and look to her as a role model.
With a focus on ending the epidemic of gender based violence, Ilwad has become a spokesperson for equality and justice for women in Somalia. She has brought the issue of sexual assault to the forefront of political discussions as the Co-Chair of the Child Protection Working Group alongside UNICEF and as a chairman for the Gender Based violence Case Management Group.
Recently, she appeared on the prestigious program TedX Mogadishu to explain the role of Sister Somalia in the country’s rebuilding efforts. (TEDxMogadishu – Ilwad Elman -In Memory of My Father, I Returned to Rebuild Somalia – YouTube) On March 8, 2011, Ilwad garnered media attention when she represented Somalia during a climb up Africa’s Mount Kilimanjaro alongside 76 other activists from 36 African countries.
Together they pledged their commitment to end Violence Against Women and Girls for the “Climb Up, Speak OUT” campaign by UNite Africa under UNwomen.
Her actions are bringing awareness to gender based violence across Somalia and are adding pressure for policy changes by Somalia’s Transitional Federal Government.
After three years of living and working in Somalia Ilwad still has her frustrations. Sometimes when she is dismissed or her ideas are not prioritized because she is a woman (something she never experienced in the West) she becomes discouraged.
But Ilwad knows that while she always has the option to leave Somalia, the women and girls she helps cannot.
She understands that her efforts provide opportunities that will eventually lead to better lives and, ultimately, a better Somalia in the future. It’s this fact, along with the inspiration of her parents’ work, which is at the root of her determination to continue to work for the women and girls of Sister Somalia.
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